Former Ontario MPP Randy Hillier back in court seeking location change for ‘Freedom Convoy’ jury trial

Former Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, who is facing charges in connection with last year’s “Freedom Convoy,” is seeking for a second time to move his jury trial away from Ottawa.

Hillier’s lawyer argued in court Tuesday that widespread opposition against the protest in the capital could lead to an unfair trial if his case is heard in the city.

Crown prosecutors, meanwhile, said there are legal safeguards in place to ensure an impartial jury.

Hillier is facing nine charges in connection to his participation in the early 2022 protests against COVID-19 public-health measures and the federal government.

Those charges include assaulting a public or peace officer, criminal mischief, counselling others to commit mischief and resisting or obstructing a public or peace officer.

Defence lawyer David Abner said the “political demonization” of the convoy movement in Ottawa, especially by local politicians, “has the effect of potentially tainting the perspective of jurors.”

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He also said the City of Ottawa’s opposition to the convoy movement could be harmful to the trial.

Abner pointed, for example, to the city’s decision to give an award to downtown resident Zexi Li, the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against convoy organizers who helped secure a temporary injunction that prohibited protesters from blaring their truck horns.

Abner also said media coverage of the protests could have had a negative impact on public opinion.

But Crown prosecutor Dallas Mack said the demonstrations received national and international coverage that featured a range of different perspectives on the issue.

Mack said legal principles and precedence mean that jurors should be trusted to put biases or preconceived notions aside, no matter the trial venue.

Superior Court Justice Kevin Phillips denied Hillier’s initial change-of-venue request, citing procedural safeguards that would ensure a fair trial.

In April, Phillips summarily rejected such applications from Hillier and convoy organizer Pat King. He reached that decision a day before Hillier’s lawyer was set to make arguments about why the trial should be moved.

Phillips ruled that he was bound to a previous court decision in the case of convoy organizer James Bauder, who had also argued unsuccessfully to have his trial moved to another region.

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But an unrelated Supreme Court decision days later suggested that judges take a more cautious approach when summarily dismissing applications, leading Phillips to overturn his own decisions and allow new applications to be filed before a different judge.

“The first judge got it wrong,” Abner said Tuesday.

He cited Perth or Pembroke as possible locations if the trial is moved.

“We’re not favouring a specific jurisdiction. We just think it’s not appropriate to be in Ottawa,” said Abner.

The court adjourned on Tuesday before Justice Anne London-Weinstein handed down a decision.

The next hearing in the case is expected Oct. 6.

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